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February 1, 2010 / iselgarcia

Thai Spices Warm in the Rainy Season

* A version of this was published in Expat Newspaper

It was a gloomy, rainy afternoon. The kind wherein the muddy water soaks your socks – and your spirits. I was tempted to just skip work, head home and wrap myself in warm blankets with a cup of hot tea and a good book. But I’m glad I didn’t. Otherwise I wouldn’t have discovered a gem of a restaurant that soothed and comforted this rain-weary foodie’s heart.

The moment you step into Azuthai, you know that it is a place where you can relax: the interiors are plush, practically calling out to you to stop, stay a while and take your time eating – no, savoring – the food offered. And oh, how can I even begin to describe the food.

What really got me was the Tom Yam Gong soup, hands-down. Served in steaming hot bowls, this prawn and vegetable broth literally sent a shock to my throat: it was warm, spicy and bursting with flavor all at the same time. The crispy duck salad that followed was also pleasantly surprising. It was a complex mix of flavors: tangy, spicy, a little smoky, a pure delight. 

Over our soups and the salad, owners and siblings Malou Gamboa and Chef Jay Gamboa (of the famed Milkyway restaurant clan) told us the interesting story of how Azuthai started. The inspiration, of course, was Bangkok, a city the travel-loving Gamboas like to frequent.

And what they love to do when they travel? “Eat,” said Malou, laughing. “Food is the number one thing on the agenda.” Needless to say, their family fell in love with Thai cuisine and noticed a lack of good Thai restaurants in the Philippines. 

When they decided to bring “Thai’s greatest hits” home to the Philippines, Jay spent a week in Thailand training with a world class thai food master there. But when he came home, he said, he tried, “five, six, seven times” and dishes were still coming out so-so. “Nowhere near like this,” he said gesturing to the scrumptious feast before us. It was a testament to the complexity of Thai cuisine only “authentic” Thai cooks can whip it up. 

I had to consciously stop myself from gorging forkful after forkful of Pad Thai as I listened. Malou and Jay then proudly introduced us to their incredibly talented Thai chefs Tip Choowang and Bow Noomai who hail all the way from Phuket, Thailand. We were informed by our hosts that the night before we visited, a party of 12 from the Bangkok Trade Commission was delighted to find that, at Azuthai, dishes had as much kick as they did at home. That was how “authentic” Tip and Bow’s creations are. Just a friendly tip to those not used to Thai food: when you order, you can request meals “spicy” (mildly hot) or “Thai spicy” (ear-poppingly hot). 

I was about to heroically cross my knife and fork in an attempt to stop my gargantuan calorie-intake, when another plate arrived, one that proved to be kryptonite to this failure of a dieter. The Massaman Lamb Curry is a good as it sounds. The red curry sauce was savory and creamy, the potatoes tender, the lamb breaking into shreds at the gentle prodding of my fork. Shamelessly disregarding my previous claims of being full, I poured the curry onto a heaping serving of plain white rice and ate like there was no tomorrow.

My colleague and I left Azuthai and walked out into the rain feeling like we had tires for stomachs. But there was a certain spring to our step and a smile on our faces. If it is excellent, world-class, home-style, Thai comfort food you’re looking for, then end your search now. Head on to Azuthai and eat to your heart’s content. And oh, hug the chefs Tip and Bow for us. They’ve made Azuthai the perfect place to be.

*pictures from Azuthai

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